Pierce focused on all-around game vs. Knicks

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Pierce focused on all-around game vs. Knicks

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

WALTHAM The NBA announced on Monday that Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard was once again the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award winner.

There were two Boston Celtics who finished among the top-five vote-getters for the award.

Paul Pierce wasn't one of them. (They were Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo.)

But if the Celtics are to get past the New York Knicks in the first round of the playoffs, chances are Pierce's defense on Carmelo Anthony will be a major factor.

Pierce, a prolific scorer in his own right, is essentially defending a bigger, stronger, younger version of himself in Anthony.

Boston escaped Game 1 with an 87-85 win, with some of the credit going to Pierce and the way he limited Anthony to 15 points -- about 10 points below his season average -- on 5-for-18 shooting from the field.

"A great player like Carmelo, you can't count on him shooting the ball the way he did Sunday night," said Pierce, who added, "We hope that he shoots like that again."

If Anthony does, chances are Pierce's defense will have something to do with it.

There's no doubt that Pierce's defense has picked up in recent years, by no means should it be confused with Bruce Bowen or any other highly regarded defensive player known for locking down players.

For Pierce, he uses his size, deceptively quick lateral movements and just plain ol' veteran savvy, to get the job done defensively.

But in this series, as important as it is to limit Anthony's effectiveness, the Celtics will need more than defensive stops from Pierce.

"For me, I have to be great on both sides of the ball," Pierce said. "That's the way I'm looking at this series. I have to be the scorer that the Celtics need me to be, and I have to be a defender. Because I'm guarding one of the premier players in the game. It's a lot of responsibility, but it's a responsibility I've been used to."

Rivers recalls how so much of the burden of carrying the team, fell on Pierce's shoulders during his early years.

"Early on, he had to do more than just score and defend," Rivers said. "He had to be the passer, he had to be the rebounder. My first two, three years with Paul, that was difficult. It is hard being the only guy. Everybody's double teaming you, but now he has other guys so that allows him to rest more."

Rivers sees Pierce's improved play defensively as another sign of his growth into an elite, all-around NBA superstar.

"You have to do them both," Rivers said. "It's part of basketball. It's offense and defense. It's not just one."

In Boston's Game 1 win, Pierce showed the ability to achieve success on both fronts in the game's closing moments.

Trailing 85-84 with about a minute to play, Pierce's defense on Anthony led to Anthony being whistled for an offensive foul with less than a minute to play.

Boston's Ray Allen nailed the game-winning shot with less than 12 seconds to play.

The pass to Allen for the game-winning shot came from Pierce.

"Ray's the hero with the shot; to me Paul's the hero with the pass," Rivers said moments after Sunday's Game 1 victory. "That's a great example of not playing hero basketball; just trusting what we drew up."

Pierce embraces the balancing act he has to perform for one reason -- he doesn't have a choice if the Celtics are going to have the kind of postseason they collectively envision.

"I have to be just as aggressive offensively, and I have to be even more aggressive defensively," Pierce said. "It's not going to be easy. Doc's always saying, 'winning isn't easy.' So that's what it is."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Jaylen Brown may be the future of Celtics, but he's focused on now

Jaylen Brown may be the future of Celtics, but he's focused on now

BOSTON – This is not how this is supposed to work.

When the regular season ends for high draft picks, there’s usually a nice, warm island awaiting their arrival in late-April when the regular season ends.

But this was no typical rookie season for Boston’s Jaylen Brown.

And as we have seen, Brown isn’t your typical rookie.

Drafted with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft, the 6-foot-7 Brown found himself in the rotation on a Celtics team that advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference finals before having their season end at the hands of the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

The path towards individual and team success is littered with struggles and potholes of strife along with the pain of disappointment cluttering up things as well.

From within that rubble lies promise; the kind that has Celtics Nation justifiably excited about the future of Brown with the Celtics.

But Brown isn’t about the future, folks.

“I’m excited about the now,” he said. “I’m excited about this summer. I try not to look too far ahead. Everybody talks about the future and how much potential we have; I’m worried about the now. I want to be part of the now. That’s all I’m focused on.”

That kind of focus is among the many reasons that despite being a rookie, his teammates quickly sensed that the now-20-year-old had his sights set on not just talking about cracking the rotation but actually putting in the work that would leave head coach Brad Stevens no choice but to play him.

“He’s going to be really good,” said Boston’s Gerald Green. “If he keeps his same mentality; he’s humble. And continue to work on his game and continue to learn.

Green added, “he couldn’t be in a better place, than being here. With his talent and his work ethic, he’s going to be great.”

But like most rookies, Brown’s play was anything but a steady on-the-rise movement.

His first NBA start came on the road at Cleveland on Nov. 3.

Boston lost the game, but Brown won over many with his career-high 19 points while spending a good deal of the night guarding LeBron James.

In his next four games, Brown scored a total of just 17 points.

And in Boston’s first-round series with Chicago, Brown's role shrunk in the last four games – all Celtics wins. In those games, he played a total of just under 10 minutes.

So what did he do?

He got back in the gym, continued to work on his game and do a better job at making the most of the minutes he received.

More than anything else, Brown attributes his improved play as the season progressed to simply figuring out the NBA landscape as far as what he could do and what he needed to work on, to get better.

Which is why there are many who believe that Brown will be a much better player than the one we saw this season.

That said, he still had decent numbers – 6.6 points and 2.8 rebounds while shooting 45.4 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from 3-point range.

“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, coming into the NBA,” Brown said. “Throughout the year, I don’t think people expected me to contribute as much as I did. Now just getting to the Eastern  Conference finals and losing, it builds a hunger you know;  I have a bad taste in my mouth. Gotta put in work during the offseason and come back stronger.”

Like Brown, Al Horford came into the NBA as a high draft pick who wound up in the playoffs that rookie season.

Horford can totally relate to Brown’s comments about not knowing what he was getting into.

“The first year you’re really feeling everything out,” Horford said. “Jaylen has an understanding now of what the league is about. It’s a lot for a rookie to handle. Now he has a better idea (so) he can just focus on getting better, working on his game and I expect him to be much better his second year.”

Brown will have the knowledge gained from being part of a team that came within three wins of getting to the NBA Finals.

To come that close is tough to accept, but Brown sees it all as part of a bigger plan for him and his role with the Celtics moving forward.

“I can use it as fuel. I’ve been learning all year,” Brown said. “I’ve had ups, I’ve had downs, I’ve had opportunities, I’ve had mistakes. So I’ve been learning and growing and improving all year and I’m going to continue to grow and improve and prove people wrong, prove doubters wrong.”

And that process Brown speaks of has certainly been aided by being in a successful situation like Boston compared to some other lottery picks who saw lots of playing time but showed minimal growth playing lots of minutes.

“Being on a winning team and developing good habits, learning how to win, play the game the right way … learning that at a young age is really going to help me,” Brown said. “A lot of young guys, they don’t learn that early. They have to figure it out three, four, five years in. I’m happy I learned it now.”

And while the learning will continue on for Brown during this offseason, it won’t be nearly as tough now than it was when he came into the league.

“I know exactly what I’m preparing for,” Brown said. “I expect a really different result.”

Brown added, “I want to be ready for whatever is thrown at me; no excuses whatsoever.”

Now that’s how this is supposed to work!